Everyday Ethology

Humans are natural born ethologists. Our elaborated capacities for social cognition (Herrmann et al., 2007), combined with language and mental time travel (sensu Suddendorf et al., 2009), are among the hallmarks of what makes us human. We intuitively and constantly engage in noticing and interpreting the behavioral variation within and around us, from private rumination to gossip, storytelling and the daily news. What we notice and how we interpret this variation inevitably shapes our subsequent behavior, and therefore the trajectories of our own development and that of the groups we are a part of. However, evidence in the behavioral sciences is overwhelming that our evolved capacities as “everyday ethologists” do not always function in accordance to what we as individuals and social groups aim to achieve or who we want to be. We may oversimplify, fail to notice, misinterpret and misattribute the multitude of causes and conditions that lead to observed behaviors, often leading to reduced behavioral flexibility and social conflict in today’s world (e.g. Haidt, 2012; Kahneman, 2011; Lilienfeld, Ammirati, & Landfield, 2009; Wilson, 2011). We therefore argue that a focus of ESD should be in supporting students to develop a more reflective practice of noticing and interpreting behavioral variation in context, thus allowing them to shape their world more flexibly towards valued outcomes (Ciarrochi et al., 2016).

Toward this aim, Global ESD is developing lesson design supports that help students explore everyday experiences and narratives through the lenses of generalized principles in human behavioral ecology. Students can thus be supported in recognizing that the behavioral dimensions they encounter in their everyday experience are relevant in understanding and shaping sustainability outcomes on various scales (the educational aim of transfer of learning). Additionally, introducing generalized evolutionary dynamics through the focus on behavioral variation and selection by consequence, in addition to macroevolutionary dynamics that tend to be far removed from students’ experience, has the potential to address a number of current challenges in teaching evolutionary biology in general.

References

  • Ciarrochi, J., Atkins, P. W. B., Hayes, L. L., Sahdra, B. K., & Parker, P. (2016). Contextual positive psychology: Policy recommendations for implementing positive psychology into schools. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(OCT), 1–16. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01561
  • Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York, NY, USA: Pantheon Books.
  • Herrmann, E., Call, J., Hernandez-Lloreda, M. V., Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition: The Cultural Intelligence Hypothesis. Science, 317(5843), 1360–1366. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1146282
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY, USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Lilienfeld, S. O., Ammirati, R., & Landfield, K. (2009). Giving Debiasing Away. Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(4), 390–398. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01144.x
  • Suddendorf, T., Addis, D. R., & Corballis, M. C. (2009). Mental time travel and the shaping of the human mind. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, 1317–1324. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0301
  • Wilson, T. D. (2011). Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. Penguin.